In its course from Matlock Bridge to that of Cromford, the Derwent has
many graceful windings ; and every bend is through very different
scenery. Soon after leaving Cromford by the artificial cleft made
through the rocks for the turnpike, we make pleasant acquaintance
with it as it comes rushing along, nothing but a low wall and
a little verdure being between its waters and the road; and while
leaning over the wall we get a view of Willersley and its meadowy
slope, with the rocks in front, exactly the converse of that we
had from the bridge, and scarcely less charming.
Presently, with wooded and cragged Harp Edge rising high on our left,
we come to a place of worship called Glenorchy Chapel; its neat brick
manse and shrubbery hard by, and Masson Mills, with their large foaming
weir, suddenly bursting on the eye and ear together, - grey old rocks,
like the ruins of a mighty castle, in the back-ground, and (if it
should happen to be a first-visit) a most excited feeling of wonder
coming upon us as to what, with such a curious initiation may next
steal into view.
A neat and cleanly, if not very large inn, the Rutland Arms -
a house dear to me for some pleasant associations with days that
are gone to return no more - and a number of miscellaneous homes,
chiefly rustic, are on our left; on our right, the old familiar
paper mill ; a toll-house in front, and the mansion of Mr. Clarke,
a local magistrate, looking abroad from its most exquisite site,
above: these are shortly passed, and a few more steps bring us
to a scene of which I have elsewhere said - "When Nature
had completed Switzerland, there was left one beautiful fragment
for which she had no further use in that country; so she set it
in Derbyshire, amid a framework of romantic hills, and in time
it came to be called the Gem of the Peak: that gem is Matlock."
As I am not writing a Directory, it is not required that I should
specify all the accommodations and comforts for invalids, loungers,
tourists, or visitors of an hour, at Matlock
Bath. Perhaps there are few places where the outward index is better
justified within. Amongst the hotels, which however are not hotels
merely but most comfortable boarding-houses, the New Bath, (Ivatts
and Jordan's,) Walker's, the Temple and Hodgkinson's, take the lead.
The Rutland Arms we have already mentioned. From any of these, very
romantic and pleasing views of the adjacent scenery may be taken as
you sit quietly in your room. The same may be said of a great number
of quiet villa and cottage lodgings - not forgetting special mention
of Mr. Broadfoot's the Villa par excellence - which
can reckon on being the oldest residence of any pretension in the
place. The Old Bath, famed for more than a century, is, at the time
I am writing, closed, but perhaps not for long. In a house attached
to it dwells Dr. Adam, who has one of the most interesting, if not
very large, private mineral collections of any gentleman in Derbyshire.
Ask him to let you see it, and you will never forget either it or
its owner's courtesy.
Nor shall I enter here into a minute description of the Baths themselves
- the Old, Bath, the New Bath and the Fountain ; nor of the great
Caverns - the "Cumberland," the "Devonshire,"
the "Rutland," and the "High Tor Grotto " - all
of which have been so often and so fully described by Mr. Adam, and
by many pre-Adamite and subsequent writers, and about which
you can learn everything you need on the spot. The same may be said
of the "Petrifying Wells," where you can find everything
turned into stone that whim or fancy might crave - from a bishop's
wig and a broken lantern to a linnet's nest and eggs. My advice in
a word is to see them all, if you have time, and when you have done
so, set each of them down for that which in itself is worthy, since
each of them has some special interest of its own. Here are lesser
inns and shops, too, in abundance, for everything you are likely to
need - most conspicuous of all "the Museums," for the exhibition
and sale of spar-work of matchless skill.
And it would be wrong while glancing
through Matlock Dale, not to speak, in general terms at least,
of the increase of private residences, several of which: are very
picturesquely situated. There is a neat and modest one here, by
the Fountain Bath, where dwells that true, poet, John Allen, a
gentleman whom you might travel far to find surpassed, either in
eye or ear, for what is beautiful and harmonious. It is he who
singing of the Derwent - and he might be almost describing it from
his own window - says that it
"There o'er its rocky bed foam-crested flies,:
And there, entranced, in waveless beauty lies,
And forms a mirror trembling in the breeze,
Where pendant shadow mocks the living trees.
Beneath moist Alder's quivering shade it creeps,
Where pensive Willow dips her hair and weeps;
And gently whispers from the leafy screen,
Like playful childhood, hiding to be seen."
Here is another of his pictures:-
"Mirror'd within the dark and silent river,
Calmly as if its course were marked for ever,"
Still as the snow-fall, traceless as a gleam,
Yon pleasure-freighted boat, glides down the stream."
"Of height old Masson boasts not - Peak can show
Far loftier crests, and nobler scenes below.
Yet not in hills, black, rugged, heathy, bleak,
Is found the beauty or the pride of Peak,
But in his vales, where Nature sat, and smiled,
Tired with the heavings of her mountains wild."
And while we look abroad upon all he describes from Masson, how
thoroughly can we sympathise with the old worthy when he says-
"Awe-breathing Grandeur sits not on our hills,
No avalanche thunders, and no glacier chills;
Yet are they noble scenes, wherever trod,
That lead the thoughts, and lift the soul to God."
Let us imagine ourselves to be climbing Masson now, - first by
"Zig-zag Walk" towards yon Prospect-tower; which we should
love all the better if it were less like a gigantic chimney and
more like a ruined fortalice, or a place for devotion. What exquisite
pictures do we get, as we, glance back from each rest on our way,
of the little spire so prettily pointing up from below; the Baths,
Museums, and Hotels, reduced by distance to mere vignettes; the
long and finely broken line of the Hag Tors; and
"The hills, wood-crown'd or dark-the grassy knolls -
The stream which now unseen, now radiant, rolls -
The village homes that midst the foliage breathe
Their smoke light curling."
And now we have reached the tower, whence far expands
"A fair and varied scene
Of golden fields, and groves of massive green,
And hills, and knolls, and streams that winding run,
And tell historic tales of Babington!
There Riber's mount recalls the Druid's fame,
Altar, and idol-rite, and blood-fed flame ;
Mount stretches over moor, and there o'er all,
Faint as a setting cloud at daylight's fall,
Axe-edge appears; and o'er yon champaign wide,
Once, Potter, waved thy Charnwood's forest-pride !" *
And now we descend from the tower, and find our way by Mr. Robert
Chadwick's pleasant rural residence, "the Lower Tower,"
into Upper Wood Lane. How delightfully steals on the eye this view
from the first reach above the West Lodge ! The "Heights
of Abraham" with their varied tint of foliage and flower
are on our left, and a little to the back, while we gaze; woods
of every possible hue are below us; fields with grey stone walls
are spread out beyond, over the breast of Riber; the houses at
Starkholmes, old and rustic, are in harmony with all that lies
about them, and the lands beyond
[footnote at bottom of page 41]
*Lines quoted at random from Allen's "Matlock".
them are growing grey by distance. But how very beautiful is all
that stretches along, between us and Riber's side, of woody bank,
and rock, and waving pine, or of river and road, and collected
or scattered habitations, with their little fields and gardens,
and such winding foot-paths as Samuel Plumb once called " the
old brown lines of rural liberty," but which have from
time to time been sadly interfered with here. Yet more interesting
still grows our walk as we wander along the straggling lane,
where fir-trees on one side, and thorns on the other, harmonise
well with the old walls so mossy and grey as we draw near to
the homely yet picturesque cottage of two rooms; over the door
of which is a board as homely, telling us that it is the dwelling
of "Richard Hallam, Botanist." And any painter or,
poet, to say nothing of botanists, might, if it were not a breach
of a holy commandment, covet Richard Hallam's tiny house, within
its little garden and the tall trees below; with the Hag Tors
beyond, and woods and fields fading away in the distance beyond
these again - where old lines of road, winding slowly off, seem
to vanish at last into the very sky, somewhere to the right of
Crich, but where, the rustic in the lane, of whom we inquire, "conna
From the third reach in the lane, we see the High Tor and the Heights
of Abraham, with Tansley Moor beyond. There is a lead-mine just
below us; and the voices of the village come cheerily up the, hill.
Were it spring instead of autumn, that sound would be sweetly blended
with the songs of innumerable birds, as we passed, on to views as
varied and more expansive still. How delightful to me has sometimes
been the melody of the throstle and the twitter of smaller birds,
from yon trees, so festooned with mistletoe and ivy, while lingering
And now we come to a sort of natural platform on the hill, the seat
of a grey old hamlet the residence perhaps of miners and peasants
and district guides. What pretty little pastures
are these at hand. What a grand view of the whole line of rocks,
stretching from the High Tor round to Willersley. The fields and
woods further on, how fair, with the heights, and "stand,"
and church, and village of Crich, far-off to the right! What would
I not give to be able to paint a scene like this !
"Oh! for a hand to sketch the beauteous glen
But Nature laughs at pencil and at pen.
Who that has never trod those verdurous rocks,
That rampart which at Time and Tempest mocks ;
Who has not look'd into the stream beneath,
Dark, and to vision, motionless as death;
Nor view'd the cheerful winding vales extent,
With lawns and houses, trees and spire besprent -
Nor mark'd (for who may, undelighted) see life
The quiet beauty of a noble tree
Spread in the grandeur of a richer clime,
Thy form - itself a grove - majestic Lime!
Nor cast, far over all, admiring eyes,
Where distant heights, and wooded summits rise,
Would due conception of their beauty gain
From Turner's pencil, or from Wordsworth's strain ?" - Allen.
Nor is Upper Wood Lane the only walk worthy of Masson-Side. There
is one leading from the Prospect tower to Bonsall, and passing such
sweet little bays and nooks, commanding too such lovely views, as
would well reward a much greater amount of toil than is required
to gain them. Another field-path in a contrary direction, gives
a fine view of the upper portion of the High Tor and the scenes
thence stretching away to the north-east. It leads to Masson Farm,
a very quiet and rustic place, but a favorite resort in his later
years of Mr. Price, a tasteful architect, who having retired from
his vocation came hither occasionally for his health and for meditation,
till his life ebbed away at last amid its beauties and its peace
; - and even now I could name an original-minded citizen of Derby,
who seldom misses an opportunity of making it his holiday-retreat.
There is a continuation of the
road, widening as it goes down, by Colonel Leacroft's beautifully
seated mansion, towards Matlock Bridge. But these are not walks
for the crowd - only for the lone loiterer, or for couples at
most, of such as have a true love of Nature and her quiet teachings.
Not always are the most noted places, even in a noted district,
the spots likely to be valued the most by thoughtful and genial
souls, who rather prefer
"To climb the trackless mountain all unseen,"
or at all events to pursue the tracks less beaten. But we will
now descend, if you please, and pay for a peep at "The Dungeon
Tors," * by the way; yet I like not the spirit that has put
such a scene under lock and key. There is, unfortunately, a little
too much of it throughout the neighbourhood - often driving visitors
away much earlier than they would, and doing in the end no great
good to anybody. But let us not be too censorious: we came out to
enjoy ourselves. And now, after looking at one or two of the "
Petrifying Wells" - I think it is Smedley's that pleases me
as much as any - let us pass on to Walker's Ferry-boats, and cross
over to the "Lovers' Walks."
If the hour be well chosen, and Nature in one of her calmer moods,
how sweet it is to loiter awhile on our way, near the Church, looking
down on the here-silent river, then up at those picturesque and
mighty tors, half-mantled in verdure that seems ever young, while
they are ever old! Thou solemn blending of the beautiful and sublime!
Say, if my loved one in heaven was wont sometimes to gaze with me
in such rapture here, - if thou, sweet scene of earth, canst inspire
feelings I that long not to die, but to live for ever, - what, must
be the enjoyment of spirits like hers, in "the world without
a grave! " Sometimes I have been here on the sabbath, when
[footnote at bottom of page 44]
*Named in recent times " The Romantic Rocks."
there has been
scarcely a human being on the road, and hardly a sound but the
psalm of the assembled worshippers, swelling and falling on the
ear like a strain from a better world.
But it is not the sabbath now, and we have come to Walker's Ferry.
How nicely fits the scene this lapidary's little workshop, as we
reach the opposite bank. We linger here but for a short time,
then wend our upward way. Willersley Grounds are open only on
special days, and on one of them we go thither. The "Lovers'
Walks" are open always. They wind up among the crags, trees,
shrubs, and flowers of the Hag Tors, and afford now and then the
most picturesque sights imaginable of all that side of the river
from which we have just come. Sometimes they lead us into hidden
bowers, but not for long, and we are presently startled to find
ourselves on the top of some projecting rock, giving us a glimpse
of half the beauty of the Dale. There is at least one point commanding
a panoramic view of all that is embraced between Masson and Harp
Edge, and from which the view of Matlock Bath may be said to be
And we wander on, from point to point, until at last we come to
one of the most interesting views of the High Tor, which can be
obtained. I do not say the most interesting, because every
aspect of that magnificent limestone-rock has some peculiar charm
of its own. Nor is it altogether independent ; of the sky it woos
for its various characters. Rising to an altitude of 360 feet from
the bed of the river, belted mid-way with foliage and fern, draped
here and there with braids of ivy, it courts acquaintance with all
weathers, - frowns in one and smiles in another, as it may happen
to be in shade or shine, - and whencesoever viewed, is almost always
one of the most conspicuous objects in the landscape, making its
own poet say -
"Thou standest in thy greatness, solemn stone !
Kingly-not solitary, yet alone."
Well, thus far, we have glanced
at Matlock Dale in three of the seasons; in the fresh green of
spring, the warm flush of summer, and the golden ripeness of autumn;
but great injustice should we be doing, both to it and ourselves,
were we not to say something of its wild winter charms - when
every little cascade has become a column of crystal - when every
waving birch and spiral larch is feathered with spotless rime
- when the evergreens assert their prerogative of unfailing freshness
amid the masses of rock and snow, and the holly-berry's ruddy
glow gladdens the season's cheek. Above all, how grand and enchanting
are some of these scenes, in the silent night when moon and stars
conspire to throw over nature their soft mantle of light, - when
lights from cottage and mansion, stars of domestic life and comfort,
gleam along the hill-side in more genial reply ; and the river
pours uninterrupted through the valley its Christmas hymn. And
so, Matlock Dale! though we could not see all seasons upon thee
at once, we have tried, in fancy, to visit thee in each, and hope
to pass through thee again on many a morrow.